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The Smoky Mountain girls basketball team stands with Coach Cindi Simmons with a sign commemorating her 500th career win. Photo courtesy of Carey Phillips/The Sylva HeraldSmoky Mountain High coach makes school history.

Longtime Smoky Mountain girls basketball coach Cindi Simmons made school history last Wednesday after securing her 500th career victory. The Lady Mustangs gave Simmons the win at last Wednesday's home game by beating East Henderson, 67-47, bringing Simmons' career record to 501-255.

“These wins aren’t mine, they represent all the players that have come through our program the past 29 years, they have earned these wins.,” said Simmons. “I have just been fortunate enough to get to tag along. It speaks well of our program. I am thankful for the opportunity to be able to coach here (my whole career) in Jackson County and be a part of this school system and community.”

“We are extremely proud of Coach Cindi Simmons,” said Smoky Mountain High School's Principal Jay Grissom. She is an exceptional person and and excellent influence on the students. We are proud to have her as a member of our staff, and I am lucky to have her as a colleague.”

According to Simmons, regardless of winning or losing, the aspect of her coaching career she values the most is being able to help the players as they mature as athletes and grow into adults. “Watching the young ladies grow up and be successful is my proudest accomplishment,” said Simmons. “There is nothing like it! I have been blessed to be surrounded by a lot of good people – most importantly players and assistant coaches. I have been most fortunate to be at a place where the administration and community have been supportive of women’s basketball from the start.”

As she is nearing three decades as a coach for the Lady Mustangs, Simmons says the one thing she can attribute her success to is the relationship she builds with her players. “Relationships and getting to know and understand the young people I get to work with has been a major factor in our success,” said Simmons. “The opportunity to be a part of their lives at such a time in their lives is the most rewarding. I am sure most teachers/coaches in the profession will agree that there is nothing like the feeling you get when players you have coached years ago come back to see you. It is something special,” she said.

After graduating from Western Carolina University in 1983 with a Masters of Arts in Education and a concentration in Public Education, Simmons began her professional career as a physical education teacher 29 years ago at Sylva-Webster, which was combined with Cullowhee High in 1988 and then became known at SMH. On top of being an exceptional coach, Simmons also stands as a national board certified teacher and has received her ASEP coaching certification.

She currently serves as basketball and volleyball coach for SMHS. Simmons has served as the volleyball coach for the Mustangs for 25 seasons and has a 379-185 career record. As a volleyball coach, Simmons has lead SMH to State AAA Championships 1991, 1992, 1993, State AAA Runner-up 1994, State Play-offs 17 of 24 seasons, 11 Conference championships (Seven straight from 1990-96), Notable 90 team –1992 State Championship team was selected for this award by the NCHSAA.

Through her career, Simmons has been fortunate enough to coach numerous exceptional players including former Smoky Mountain standout Cetera DeGraffenreid. As a part of the 2007 Lady Mustang basketball team, Simmons coached DeGraffenreid and the rest of the team to a state championship, leaving SMH the last team in WNC to secure the title.

Under Simmons’ coaching, DeGraffenreid set a Western North Carolina record for career scoring (3,081 points) and was named a McDonald’s All-American, and went on to start for the Tarheels at the University of North Carolina during her freshman year. “It was an honor to play for Mrs. Simmons, who was more than a great coach, but also a wonderful person that cared deeply about each of her players,” said De- Graffenreid. “She has been an excellent mentor to so many who have come through the Smoky Mountain program and is more than deserving of reaching this milestone. I am very happy for her and wish I could have been there in person as she claimed her 500th victory. I wish her continued success in the future.”

As basketball coach, Simmons has lead the Lady Mustangs to a State AA Championship 2007, State AAA Runner-up 1994, Regional Championship 1994, 2007, Regional Finalist 2006, 1992, Sectional Championships 1984, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2006, 2007, State Play-offs 23 of 28 seasons

Conference Championships 1984, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2000, 2001 2006, 2007, 2008, Conference Tournament Championships 1984, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2006, 2007 and 2006. Best in the West Teams 1992, 1993, 1994, 2007.

Simmons said that among her most memorable victories as a coach as SMHS was the State Championship in 2007 and the Regional Finals in 1994 against Hickory when the Lady Mustangs came from behind to win and advance to the State Championship game. “The euphoria of that moment was an incredible feeling,” she said.

As a former basketball player for Western Carolina University, Simmons says having the opportunity to play on the collegiate level taught her a great deal about the sport and helped shape her into the coach she is today. “Absolutely the college experiences influenced me – While in college I had the opportunity to play under three different coaches so I was exposed to different philosophies and coaching styles,” said Simmons. “Playing the game helps in so many ways, especially in skill development. Also my father was a coach for 41 years so those experiences growing up a coach’s child have proven invaluable.”

With plenty of playing time ahead this season, Simmons is confident that the Lady Mustangs will continue to do well in conference play and anticipates making it to the state level. “For the rest of the season we are going to be the best we can be when it comes tournament time. We have an awesome group of girls to work with this year. They continually strive to improve and are so coachable,” she said.


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